Gumballs spur price gouging

Posted Feb. 20, 2011, at 9:02 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 24, 2011, at 10:08 p.m.

Gumballs, increasingly in low supply here at the Smiley house, have become a hot commodity. Of course, no one cared about gumballs, a box of which had been on the boys’ dresser since Christmas, until last week. In fact, last month I vacuumed up a few that had fallen between a bed and the wall, and no one noticed. Now, however, you can earn a good $10 if you stumble across one of the hard round balls that amount to terrible gum with no flavor.

I first became aware of the black market for gumballs when I was sitting at the kitchen table, minding my own business, and through the wall behind me, I heard a fight break out in Lindell and Owen’s room.

“Those are not your balls” is a really awkward thing to hear your kids yell at one another.

I should mention how I know that the boys are fighting by sound alone. Basically, the walls shake until the decorative plates hanging in our kitchen rattle and swing on their hooks. When things get really bad, I can hear what sounds like a baseball bat, but is probably someone’s elbow or knee, hitting the floor. Mostly however, there is the usual sound of a tussle: toys crashing, feet pounding and the occasional, “I said, ‘Give it back!’” or “I’m telling!”

For the most part, I believe in letting the boys work things out themselves. Also, because I grew up with two older brothers, I know that boys’ play (even their “fighting”) sounds worse than it is, and that males have a certain amount of physical aggression they need to let out. But there are times when I catch myself wondering, “Will they actually seriously hurt each other?” That’s when I go into the room and pull them off one another.

On this particular day, when I separated the boys, I noticed that Lindell was clutching a handful of gumballs that had partially melted and colored his hands red, blue and orange. All three of the boys started talking at once.

“Those are my gumballs and he stole them!”

“He’s already lost all his own gumballs [no, they’re probably in the vacuum, I thought], so now he’s taking mine.”

Lindell stuffed several gumballs into his mouth and began to chew.

“Give them back! Give them back!”

And then the highly awkward, “You’re not supposed to take my bal- … I mean, gum!”

“Fine, you owe me one dollar,” Ford said.

Lindell went to his piggy bank, retrieved a dollar and handed it to Ford. I went back to my seat at the kitchen table. Sure, I felt bad that my 4-year-old was gypped by his older brother, but there are worse things (such as sitting through economics class) than overpaying for gumballs. Consider it an interesting lesson in supply and demand.

A few minutes later, I heard Lindell say, “I want to buy another gumball.”

“That will be one dollar,” Ford said.

This went on for several more times. Then Ford came out of his room with a shocking announcement: “We are almost out of gumballs.”

Lindell raced to his piggy bank again.

“So I’ve raised the price to $10 per ball,” Ford said.

Lindell stopped. He didn’t have $10.

“I’d like to cut you a deal,” Ford said. “But in these hard times of so few gumballs, I can’t really afford to.”

The market finally had crashed. I went back to my business. The house was quiet again. Then suddenly the plates began to rattle.

“Lindell is stealing my gumballs,” Ford yelled.

Lindell ran past me with a mouth full of gum and colored goo dripping from the corner of his lips.

“You are in debt now, Lindell,” Ford said, chasing after him. “You owe the bank [apparently, that’s Ford] more money than you can possible earn in a year. This is serious!”

However, by the look on Lindell’s face — his cheeks full like a chipmunk — it was obvious that he was not really concerned about his financial problems. Later, when Lindell realized his predicament, he tried to sell back some gum. But the market already had tanked.

Eventually I asked Ford, “How much money did you make off your brother?”

“About $15.”

That’s a lot of gum! So I asked Lindell where he was keeping all this gum, or, more precisely, where he was putting it when he was done chewing it.

He said, “I’ve eaten a few, swallowed some, left one in the bathroom and I have a couple in my pocket.”

(Someday he’ll learn that he should have hidden those gumballs and resold them when the market rose again.)

After Valentine’s Day, Ford realized that between their grandparents’ cards, each of the boys had received $30. He told Lindell: “You can buy three gumballs now.”

Lindell, who was sitting in his car seat and sucking on a lollipop, did not hesitate when he said: “Nope. Because I got this lollipop for free.”

What a deal!

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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